Westport, along with Independence, was a major outfitting point for the Santa Fe, Oregon, and California Trails. Founded in 1834 by John C. McCoy and platted around the trading post he built the previous year, Westport's early fortunes were directly tied to it's [sic] namesake landing on the Missouri river four miles due north of the town. Through the decade of the 1830's, Independence was the main outfitting point for Santa Fe traders. But as the decade closed and opportunities for commerce expanded to including outfitting for emigrant wagon trains bound for Oregon and California, Westport equaled and eventually, by the 1850's, surpassed Independence in the size of the trade.
Francis Parkman launched his famous 1846 journey to the west from Westport. The Bidwell-Bartleson party, the first emigrant wagon train destined for the Pacific shores, started from Westport in 1841. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Kit Carson, and Jim Bridger, three of the greatest mountain men and traders, lived in Westport for a time. Before his rendevzous with destiny in California, John Sutter kept shop in Westport in 1837.
Santa Fe Trail
This famous trail was founded in 1821 when WIlliam Becknell led a small group of men from Franklin, Missouri to Santa Fe on a trading expedition. Having recently declared its independence from Spain, Mexico threw off years of trade restrictions, and the colonial trading village of Santa Fe welcomed Becknell. Thus this trade route between two nations was opened, and for almost sixty years the wagons kept rolling. The Santa Fe Trail saw traders, trappers and mountain men, gold seekers, soldiers, and emigrants all walk it's [sic] dusty trace, but it found its most lasting legacy as a two way trail of commerce. In the Kansas City area, the Santa Fe Trail area had two trailheads, Westport and Independence.
Present day Shawnee is on the route from Westport. Both routes met near present day Gardner and then continued southwest as one trail. The Santa Fe Trail was designated by Congress as a National Historic Trail in 1987.
Hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to the western frontiers along the Oregon Trail, laying claim to much of the West from the late 1830's through the Civil War. Originally a route established by mountain men and fur trappers to and through the Rocky Mountains, by 1836 the Oregon Trail was being followed by missionaries to the Indians in Oregon Territory. In the Kansas City area the Oregon Trail actually followed the route of the earlier established Santa Fe Trail west, until branching off on its own west of present day Gardner. By 1841 the Oregon Trail traffic included people destined for California, and today the route is commonly referred to as the Oregon-California Trail. By 1849, the rush to the Pacific shores for gold filled The Oregon Trail. However, it is the image of families seeking a dream in the west, one wagon at a time, that is the defining moment of the Oregon Trail. In 1978 the Oregon Trail was designated by Congress as a National Historic Trail, and the California Trail was so designated in 1992.
Solomon N. Carvalho, 1853
Traveling as a daguerreotypist with the westward expedition of John C. Fremont S.N. Carvalho described his travel through present day northern Johnson County
"....started in excellent order and spirits'...[the group camped at] 'the Methodist Mission, about six miles from Westport'...and the next day proceeded to the "Shawnee Mission, a few miles further, and camped for the night."
Carvalhos's referral to the "Methodist Mission" describes the existing Shawnee Methodist Mission site in present day Fairway. His reference to "Shawnee Mission" refers to the location of the Shawnee Indian Church that was located at about present day 59th Terrence [sic - Terrace] and Bluejacket.